“What in the name of-” Airomem’s father started, his face turning red as he saw her scraping mud from her arms with rags provided by the soldiers.
“It can wait,” She said, cutting him off, her voice refreshed by water from a soldier, “I’ll include it in my full report. But first, we must act. The Agrarians have nearly exhausted their water supply and plan on using their newfound weapons to attack the Aquarians, then us. We must cut them off by providing five stun guns to the Aquarians, in exchange for all the water that they have, plus three more stun guns every six hours they provide us with more water. When the Agrarians find out water is not being delivered to them, they’ll initiate attacks, only to discover that the Aquarians have them matched in weaponry.”
“You‘re sure of this?” He asked, pausing, “What if the Agrarians turn on us instead?”
“Absolutely sure. The Agrarians know that without water, they only have a few days, so they’ll attack the Aquarians first. And if they do attack us first, the Aquarians will respond by attacking their exposed flank with their new weapons. Either way the Agrarians and Aquarians are locked in gridlock and will hopefully weaken each other to the point where we can stroll through their territory when it is time to depart. The Agrarians have greater fire power, but no water, which will keep the battles raging.”
“I’ll bring it to the war council at once” He answered, “It’s a dangerous hand, but one that needs to be played. And yourself, you will be appearing-”
“After an hour, I need to clean up,” She responded, then turned to the soldiers beside her, “Food and water, I’ll need them both at my apartment. And father, it will be difficult, but we must convince the others that we have to save the other side of the ship. Otherwise, we have provided them with power for the last hundreds of years for nothing, and that energy has gone to waste. They’re like us, the Lear, but there are those similar to the Aquarians and Agrarians among them. And we must save the Lear.”
Nearly half an hour passed before Airomem was satisfied with cleaning herself, certain that she had missed a patch of excrement somewhere as she tossed down the fifth soiled cloth. Her teeth gritted with each stroke as she remembered walking down the aisle, and her forearms tensed as she remembered Sitient’s smile. The only comfort she felt was that soon the Lear would be leaving their problems behind, literally.
She took a bite out of the meal that had been provided for her, savoring the taste as her stomach cried out in excitement with each passing morsel. Already, she was nearly full to the bursting with water- usually, she would feel guilty for wasting so much of it upon washing and quenching her thirst, but by that night the Lear should have more water than they had in a century.
She took a last bite and dressed herself, knowing that her father and the other leaders were awaiting her report. Casting a glance outside the window, she frowned as she looked over the other end of the ship, wondering how she could tie their futures together. Wondering if they would let her.
And just before she turned away, a flash of white light caught her eye, a flash that repeated two more times. She squinted, trying to make out the distant object through the narrow ship’s window, nearly turning away before she saw the flashing repeat again in a stuccatto burst. Her hand fell to her drawers, and she pulled out a spare stun stun gun that she kept in case of emergencies, the same one that she had pulled on her father long ago.
Holding her breath, she raised it to the window, and responded with three blue pulses.
Three white flashes immediately responded, three flashes she now saw was simply a window near an overhead light being covered and uncovered, and her eyes widened as she saw a face fill the window, the forehead pressed against the glass. A child’s face, one she had seen only three days before.
Then the face was replaced with hands that raced through a flurry of signals, though too fast and far away for Airomem to understand. She pulsed her stun gun to capture Ruth’s attention, and signed two words, her fingers taking long and deliberate pauses between each.
Ruth’s flashed back, and then the words began once more- in the time that Airomem had spent with her, she had only been able to teach her a portion of the words, and they came across rough and disjointed. It felt as if she was reading a paragraph with holes in it, that someone had written with their left hand, in darkness.
Help, that part was clear. Stuck. Two stuck. Stuck like you.
Stuck? she signed back.
Danger. Man and woman stuck. Help.
Airomem frowned, and then Ruth continued to sign.
Radioactive people stuck man and woman. Need help.
Radioactive? thought Airomem, What did she mean?
And then she remembered the word she had used for radioactive among them. Poison. And Ruth’s message began to make sense.
Poisonous people have stuck a man and a woman. Need help.
The poisonous people could only be those who had exiled her, Vaca and Nean and Skip. They had Horatius, that’s what stuck had to mean, that he was captured. But woman, who was the woman?
What woman? She signed back.
My woman. Came the answer, My woman.
Her mother, Airomem realized. Both Horatius and her mother were captured- she had seen Horatius being taken, but not Hannah as well. And then Ruth signed again.
No leave man and woman. Help. Stuck.
Six, came the sign, followed by a gesture, and Airomem counted over six windows until she saw one that was dark. It was in a portion of the ship that she had passed through on her way back from the bridge, as it was mirrored on the Agrarian side. And a lump swelled in her throat as she realized it was a lone corridor, with easily defended entry and exit points. And she realized how it might be defended.
How are they stuck?
You. You teach. Your power.
Her bottleneck defense lessons. Her stun guns. She was the reason Horatius and Hannah were captured.
And she realized that when the bridge opened, and she had crossed, it had not only allowed her to pass through. Rather she had brought other pieces of her side of the ship with her, sections of their culture, ideas the had long been dormant in Horatius’ people’s minds simply because of the naivety of their side of the ship. Because they hadn’t experienced them in centuries, until the opening of the bridge had awakened the concepts once again.